DUBAI: Omar Al-Somah struck a first-half hat-trick to give Al-Ahli a remarkable 4-3 away win over promoted Al-Ain at King Saud Sports City Stadium in the fourth round of the 2020-21 Saudi Professional League (SPL) season.
However, the Jeddah club didn’t have things all their own way, with Al-Ain having more shots (19 to 13), more possession (58 percent) and better pass completion (79 percent to 74 percent). The home team also had two outstanding chances to save the match in injury time, and yet still walked away with nothing to show for their efforts.
Al-Somah opened the scoring in the 19th minute from the penalty spot, and only a minute later scored from close range to double the lead. Al-Ain came back with penalty of their own, with Algerian Saphir Taider converting calmly on 25 minutes.
The Syrian international restored Al-Ahli’s two-goal lead three minutes later, viciously smashing Alexandru Mitrita’s pass from the edge of the penalty box.
After the flurry of four goals in nine minutes, Al-Ahli looked to have the match under control, but the first-half drama was far from over.
Al-Ain defender Hassan Al-Harbi made it 3-2 with a firm header on 41 minutes and as the match went into stoppage time, Niger international Amadou Moutari ran 40 yards to finish confidently past Al-Ahli No.1 Yasser Al-Mosailem.
The second half was unlikely to match the chaos and excitement of the first, and the second period saw both defenses tighten up significantly. It would take only one goal to settle this remarkable match, the Ghanian Samuel Owusu’s deft right-footed finish going in off the post on 65 minutes.
Despite getting desperately close to an equalizer, Al-Ain had to make do with praise but no points.
“Of course, it was a very important win and a very big three points,” Al-Ahli coach Vladan Milojevic said. “We came for the three points. Straight after the game I’m happy; we played attacking football and had many chances. But we could have finished the game in the first half, away to a very good team like Al-Ain. I don’t understand what happened with the defensive line. Honestly, I don’t like that. Now we have the break, and then we have a very difficult schedule and must work harder to win the next game.”
Hat-trick hero Al-Somah jokingly revealed that he had had a disagreement with his father in the build-up to the match and was offering his match ball as a peace offering. He also revealed he had not been too concerned about his mini-goal drought coming into the match.
“This was not any easy match, especially in this weather, we struggled for oxygen during the first half and into the second half,” he added. “The goals will eventually come, the most important thing is to win. If you have fans like Al-Ahli then you can come back at any time. They supported me on social media, on the streets, everywhere I went in Jeddah, the people stood with me. I thank them and hope I repaid them today. Yes, we lost to Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr, two big clubs, but it’s not the end of the world. The team will improve step by step, and we can perform in a way that will make our fans happy.”
Al-Ahli midfielder Driss Fettouhi said that his team got away with poor defensive performance.
“The one dark spot is perhaps the three goals we conceded,” the Moroccan said. “If we played with more concentration, we wouldn’t let these goals in. We have to make sure we fix that in the coming matches, but still I congratulate the boys on this performance. It’s tough to play early in the day. But three points is the most important thing before the (international) break, and we knew how important this match was. This win is comforting after the previous two defeats.”
Fettouhi also enjoyed playing in a different position to the role he usually takes up at the base of midfield.
“I’m happy to play in any position the coach asks me to play,” he said. “In several matches I played as the pivot, and today I played just behind the striker. I was comfortable as you have less defensive responsibility and you can concentrate on attacking. But even playing behind the forward you still have to run a lot and defend from the front. Today we also saw the wide players work very hard and we keep this going.”
Meanwhile, Al-Ain’s Mohammed Foaad praised his team’s performances this season despite their failure to post a single point.
“Al-Ahli are experienced with players who are established in the Professional League,” he said. “It’s our first year in the SPL and we still need more experience, but we will work even harder during the break and you will see better performances after that, and the results will come. We need those first three points and then the wins will come.
“The positive thing now after the four defeats is the international break,” Foaad added. “The staff and the players got back together for training relatively late, but after this break you will see a better Al-Ain.”
In the second match of the day, Al-Shabab overturned a one-goal deficit to win 2-1 at Al-Fateh thanks to efforts from T. Al-Ammar (2) and F. Martins, denying their opponents the chance to top the table after the fourth round of the Prince Mohammed Bin Salman League.
The result lifted Al-Shabab into second place behind leaders and champions Al-Hilal, while Al-Fateh, who had a man sent off with five minutes left, dropped to fifth.
In the last match of the day, Al-Nassr ended their alarming run of three straight defeats in the SPL with a 2-0 win over Al-Qadisiyah thanks to goals from Abdulelah Al-Amri and Firas Al-Buraikan. The three points see last season’s runner-up climb out of the relegation zone and into 13th place.